Who and what is a firefighter? Is it just the professional that you see in a station washing the engines, servicing the engines, rolling hose after it’s been used, teaching classes, giving tours to elementary school children, cutting the grass, cleaning windows and toilets, a man or woman running a crew?
If you answered yes, you’re correct. That’s the stuff that we do when we’re not out doing what we are trained to do. Our first and foremost priority is life safety and rescue. We put ourselves on the line everyday, sometimes multiple times a day during a busy season, to make sure you, the public, are safe and protected from various types of threats.
I have had the privilege in more than 30 years to work with some very fine men and women in the fire family. We do call ourselves a family because that is what we are. It doesn’t matter if you’re a paid man, on-call paid, seasonal, full-time, part-time, volunteer, active or retired. We all have a common ground — protection of life and property.
This last summer I have seen this active in our small department numerous times: The Roxie Fire, the Carr Fire, the Delta Fire and now the Camp Fire. We received the tones and responded to these recently at our department here in Lake Forest. Our chief Tim Stout and our assistant chief Lyle Barnes were out of the area, and I received a call from one of our officers, Lt. Kyle Potter, informing me he was in route to join a strike team to go fight the fire in Butte County.
He asked me to get ahold of two others in our department so we could man an engine and go as well. The teams were forming early in the day. I telephoned engineer Jared Ellis, and we spent a huge portion of our day trying to fill the third man position on our Lake Forest Engine 824. Ellis took the time off to answer the call.
Another new volunteer to our department stepped up as well — probationary firefighter Brandon Skillen. He also wanted to help, as did engineer Dylan Conklin, all of these men trying to do whatever they could to help the suffering and loss experienced by our neighbors in Butte County.
I made phone calls to area fire chiefs, and we obtained that third man, only to lose him a few hours later because he couldn’t go due to work training requirements. So we couldn’t send Engine 824. We couldn’t go, but we would have.
And when that alarm tone goes off again, morning, night, afternoon, midday, we do go. We are firefighters, we are fire family, and we are there for all of you. We hurt when we see your losses. We do cry, even though many may not admit it. I know I have and will undoubtedly do it again.
We feel the exhaustion, but we drive on. We push back that fire, cut a line, stretching hose whether on the wildland or a building or home. We rescue life — either human or animal. We cut you out of twisted metal, encouraging you to hang in there. I hold your hand when I’m not holding a tool, radio or hose, and pray a prayer for you.
That’s who and what we are. We are part of this community, and we are loaned to other communities you may never visit. I love this life. I’ll probably retire from it when I need a walker or a electric scooter, you know one of those Rascals scooters, and then again maybe not — just put a radio whip on it, code three lights and siren, a roll of hose and I’ll go again. And not just me, but many more just like me. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to be in and with this family. May we ever grow stronger to serve those around us is my prayer.